Banner headlines and breathy stories beamed the news that Celine Dion was pregnant at 41 with another child. Immediately, news outlets paraded a list of other age-defying, fabulous-looking celebrities who had babies post-40, as though this is as easy to do as baking a cherry pie. But the truth is there are many pits buried in the sweetness of this story.
The Daily Beast presented a slideshow of celebrities pictured with their dimpled-cheeked children and shared the age at which their bundle of joys were conceived and delivered. Halle Barry did it at 41. Salma Hayek at 40, Brooke Shields at 41, with the help of IVF. Susan Sarandon, who was told she couldn't have kids, had Eva at 39, Jack at 42 and Henry at 45. And Iman, we were told, was able to conceive at 44 after following an African fertility custom of holding someone else's baby for a day -- in her case, Christie Brinkley's, who natch had a baby post-40.
Okay, now guess how many women believe that having a baby after 40 is not difficult?
"Ninety percent of young women are convinced that they can wait until they're 45 to have a baby," says Sylvia Hewlett, the author of "Creating A Life." "That is a recipe for disaster. And this misinformation seriously distorts the thinking of young women. I think this is a great shame. Women need to know the truth and plan accordingly."
Here are some sobering facts. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, almost one in five women seeking infertility treatments are over 40 and two-thirds will not be able to get pregnant on their own. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that a 40 year old woman going through IVF has a 23 percent chance of getting pregnant using her own eggs, and if conception happens, only a 16 percent chance of carrying the pregnancy through birth.
Sure, high-tech fertility treatments up the odds. Twice as many women have children after 40 than 20 years ago. One success story is my sister-in-law who became pregnant naturally at 42. But those odds are still small. I know plenty of other friends who didn't and still live with emotional scars.
By the age of 44, there's less than a one percent chance that a woman's eggs can produce a child. Years ago, I asked Manhattan specialist Dr. Jonathan Scher how come so many celebrities were having babies way past 40 and simultaneously claiming that these kids came from their eggs.
"Not everyone is telling the truth," Dr. Scher told me. "Many use donor eggs and want to keep it private." (Donor eggs up the ante to a 51 percent success rate.)
By the age of 37, fertility drops as quickly as the Dow circa October 2008. It is an indisputable fact just like it still takes nine/ten months to have a baby.
I was in my mid-30's when I started going through my IVF treatments. I even went to Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, the same specialist who worked magic for Celine Dion. At first, he asked why I hadn't started earlier than 34. "Had to find the right husband which is not easy to do," I quipped. After six failed IVF treatments, Dr. Rosenwaks suggested I consider donor eggs or adoption.
Despondent -- and seriously depleted of my savings because of the $15,000 IVF price tag that CNN, my employer, did not cover -- I went away with my husband to just chillax. Sure enough, I got pregnant naturally and was blessed enough to have my son.
Upon my pregnancy test, I marched into Dr. Zev Rosenwaks office, elated and confused. How could this have happened when you said my odds were virtually impossible? "Sometimes, the sun, the moon and stars line up inexplicably and it works," he replied. "But this is still very rare."
Yes, I was one of the lucky ones, but never one of the smug ones. I couldn't have another baby despite my valiant efforts and more IVFs and operations. And it made me more convinced of what a disservice all these stories about successful pregnancies create for the many women who are visiting those fertility clinics day after day, shooting themselves with stiletto-sized needles and subjecting themselves to the painful daily blood tests in order to get pregnant.
It is not their fault that the results are not positive despite their heroic efforts. We need some more stories about the women who don't get pregnant and how they open up the chamber of their hearts for adopted children, stepchildren or become devoted aunts and teachers.
So what do I tell my stepdaughter, now in her 20s, who is building a career and independence so essential to a woman's well being? Settle with a guy before 34 or wait until the right one comes even if it's at 40? I know I'll tell her not to believe the news reports that seem to convey that having a baby at any age is possible. As with most contracts, you have to read the fine print for the disclaimers.
Complicating matters, I have an expertise in divorce and see every day what happens when couples marry for the wrong reasons.
The truth is I am a much better parent because I waited and because I married the right guy who shared the same devotion to family as I do. A previous pregnancy was aborted because I knew it was neither the right time nor the right guy. Deep in my soul, I still believe that 20 years later and have never regretted that decision.
Even knowing what I know, I still would tell my stepdaughter not to settle. But instead be informed of all her options.
And as for Celine Dion, the second child she is now carrying was from a fertilized egg created eight years ago. Once again, some media scrambled the story because technically the egg is not from a 41 year old woman.